Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 6 match between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos.
1. Can Bolts Air it Out Again?–The Chargers are fresh off a game in which they tested the opposition through the air. Philip Rivers wasn't afraid to go deep, and three players in Hunter Henry, Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams each had a reception of at least 50 yards. It marked the first time since 1968 that the Bolts had three different players haul in a reception of that distance. Now the question is, can the Chargers do it again? Like the Raiders, the Broncos boast a strong pass rush. The defending Super Bowl Champions also boast a pair of Pro Bowl corners in Chris Harris, Jr. and Aqib Talib. Philip Rives explained what makes Denver's pass defense so tough:
"(Their corners are) good so they cover well, and they've got five guys that can rush so the combination of that is a heck of a challenge. They do a heck of a job of really taking away what you do well, reading certain combinations and things. (You) just see them you go, 'Well, they've practiced that one before' when you see the way they defend certain things. Wade(Phillips) was here, it has been years ago now, but seeing him and the way he coached and how our defense was then, it is very similar when you think about our defenses (from then). 2006 stands out as similar group, both personnel group and scheme. He does a heck of a job with those guys so it's a heck of a challenge for sure."
2. Be Mindful of Miller– Perhaps no player in the NFL has the ability to wreck a game more than Von Miller. The reigning Super Bowl MVP and first-team All Pro outside linebacker is in the midst of another strong season as his 6.5 sacks are second most in the league. The Bolts were able to limit Kahlil Mack's damage last week, and will need to be up to another tough task on a short week. Rivers detailed what it is like to go up against Von Miller for the sixth straight season:
"You just wonder if you are ever going to see him plateau a little bit, and then it's like goodness gracious, he looks better this year than he has ever looked! He has always had the speed around the corner but now he is really just using that bull rush saying, 'I'm just going to run right through you.' I think too, because of all the big sacks and plays he makes which we all see, he probably doesn't get enough credit for how well he plays the run. You see him make a lot of tackles when you feel like something is there and a guy is about to gain what could be a big gain, and he lays out and makes a play in the run game. He is a complete player and as good as there is (of) a defensive player in the league."
3. What Does Bosa Do? – Joey Bosa lived up to the hype in his NFL debut, making a major impact in just 27 snaps. On the field for only 38% of the defensive plays, Bosa became only the fifth NFL player in the last 15 years to record two-plus sacks in his first game. The natural question next is what will he do for an encore. Defensive Coordinator John Pagano explained how the defensive end may only be scratching the surface of what he can do:
"That's why we took him there. It was fun; it was exciting to watch, in the amount of snaps, I like our plan of how we used him in certain things and different areas…No (there is no ceiling on him with) the way he works, his work ethic, how he approaches this game; if I'm (in the building) I think he's here. When I leave, he still might be here late at night. He lives here. That's how he approaches this game and that's how it needs to be. He's number one by being professional each and every day, but also doing the little things, what it takes to take care of your body so you can be there. It's a good start that he is off to and we need to see more of that."
4. Slow Down Siemian – Starting QB Trevor Siemian missed last week's loss to the Atlanta Falcons with a shoulder injury. It is unknown whether he will be back under center against the Bolts or if rookie Paxton Lynch will get his second straight start. Siemian has been a limited participant at practice all week, but made it clear he expects to play against the Chargers. The second-year QB out of Northwestern has completed 68 of 101 passes for 824 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions this season. Pagano outlined what he sees from Siemian on tape, and what makes him a dangerous passer:
"You see a lot of poise for a young player in this league, but he has been in this league and has learned from guys in front of him that have taught him. I think they have done a great job with him and he's somebody who sees the field, really controls the field (and) has a knack for getting them in the right spots. Their receiving group is as explosive as it gets. They're the playmakers on the field (including) C.J. Anderson running the football. Supposedly they are getting Virgil Green back which is another threat that can get down the seam on us. Their offense is based on explosion, they are getting some (offensive) linemen back and it will be a challenge for us. But you look at him and you see composure. That is what he shows."
5. Win Turnover Battle – Turnovers are always costly, but the Bolts are coughing the ball up too often. Their eight lost fumbles are the most in the NFL, and they had four total turnovers last week against the Raiders. Whether occurring in enemy territory to prevent a score, deep on their own side of the field to put the defense in a bind or late in the game to turn the tide, the giveaways are also occurring at the most inopportune times. Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt stated ball security must be a point of emphasis against an opportunistic Broncos' defense:
"We talk about that every week. It is not something that we are happy with, we are doing a lot of good things and if you take away those turnovers, we'd be doing even better. Like I said, it happens in this game, sometimes there is nothing you can do about it (as) you are going against good players who make plays. But we've given it away too many times and that is something we have to get better with."
In the same vein, Whisenhunt said the offense must do a better job of capitalizing in sudden change situations when the defense forces a turnover:
"I think that is one of the biggest disappointments, the sudden change as you call it, when our defense gets us the ball. We haven't scored a lot of touchdowns. We did in the preseason and that is something you want to be good at, but just in general, we have been down there a lot of times and not come away with touchdowns. Some of it is situational, but we've got to be better at that, no question."